Bullish boffins lead the way on growth

Hi-tech manufacturers are Britain's most confident companies. And that's good news on the jobs front.

by David Waller
Last Updated: 25 Jan 2011
Pessimism may be rife within UK plc at the moment, but new research suggests that 71% of hi-tech businesses are optimistic that their performance will improve over the next 12 months. And that’s not just some empty Government propaganda designed to coincide with the appointment of a new Binary Tsar (we just made that post up, but surely it’s crying out to be created).
The predictions actually come from a survey of 400 companies commissioned by General Electric, and it all makes for a satisfyingly gung-ho read. While talk of improvement may be expected in an area like retail – where it’d be hard for things to get any worse – the tech sector was already one of our most impressive performers. More than a quarter of the companies surveyed posted double-digit growth in 2010, and to be building on that further (particularly given the current climate) should be a real boon to the borader economy.

The order books for these companies, spanning a range of sectors including car parts, electronics, machinery and general engineering, are certainly looking good. Tech companies are predicting a 12.3% increase in orders from overseas, which are driven by British quality and crucial to their success. Domestic demand is also expected to rise, by 5.8%. Of course, such confidence comes with its downsides. Even Sir Clive Sinclair has made a return, planning to release a revamped version of his ridiculous C5 this year. If there’s demand for that then we know we’re in the midst of something special.

The other piece of good news is the effect on jobs. Almost half of these companies are planning recruitment sprees this year – 48% of them are pledging to take on staff during 2011, with plans to expand their workforces by an average of 5.7%. That isn’t going to solve the employment woes unleashed by the public sector cut-backs – these are often niche, boutique employers, and it’s unclear whether they’ll affect the job prospects of anyone who doesn’t have tech credentials – but at least it’s reassuring to see an employment story that’s built more on ones than zeros.  

There are, of course, fears. Commodity prices are on the up. And while the Government is busy positioning high-tech business as central to its drive to reboot the economy, only a third of these companies believe conditions for such manufacturing in Britain are positive. Perhaps the PM needs to spend less time comparing a roundabout in London’s Old Street to the mighty Silicon Valley, and come up with other new ways to give the sector a leg-up.

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